In 2010, roughly 6% of all U.S. retail purchases were made online. That may not sound like much, but it amounted to some $175 billion in revenue. And the percentage of purchases made online is increasing every year.
On the other hand, many eCommerce sites aren't as successful as they could be. How many online stores did those purchasers visit before they decided to buy? And the sad fact is that more shoppers abandon their carts than complete the purchase.
I'm sure that you'd like your eCommerce website to show up in the first set of statistics, and not the second.
In this article, I'll point out some of the key factors to keep in mind to make your online store as successful as possible.
1. Easy to Use
While you might think that this would be obvious, it's surprising how often online stores violate this basic principle.
Do you have thoughts of using fancy navigation, complex schemes for showing product information, etc? Don't. If you must, use it somewhere else on your website.
Your online store should be dead simple to use. You want people to find what they want, get the information they need and buy it. Don't get in their way.
2. No Distractions
Some online stores seem to want to fill every open space on their pages with special offers, marketing promotions, ads and so forth. While this might not be too bad on your home page, once the prospective purchaser has started looking at products don't distract them.
Narrow the focus on your product pages to just the information that the purchaser is likely to want.
Shoppers already have enough reasons not to complete the purchase. Don't give them any more.
3. Don't Let Them Get Lost
For a sizable online store, navigation can be a challenge. Once a shopper has clicked down multiple levels in your product hierarchy, and perhaps navigated through several pages of product information, they won't remember how they got there.
Maybe one of your product categories is “widgets”, and you sell a variety of different kinds. The shopper may want to look through all the widgets before buying. And they don't want to have to go back to your Home page and follow the navigation down to widgets each time.
Use headings and “breadcrumbs” to show shoppers where they are. Let the levels in the breadcrumbs be links, so that the shopper can quickly pick a place in the hierarchy to go back to (for example, “widgets”).
4. Make Contact Information Easily Available
Sometimes shoppers have questions or problems. If they're willing to take the effort to contact you, make it easy for them to do so.
Have your contact information on every page. At a minimum, provide an email address (or a link to an email form). If you're willing to take phone calls, put your phone number there too.
5. Answer Shoppers' Questions About Products In the Page Copy
Have you ever come across a product page that didn't give you the information you needed to make a decision? I'm sure you have. The Web is littered with them. You probably didn't purchase that product (at least from that site).
You should already have a good idea of what shoppers want to know before they buy. Make sure that you answer all of those questions. If you find that you're frequently getting asked the same question, add the answer on the product page.
If you've already answered all of their questions, you've removed one reason not to buy.
Note that we're talking about what shoppers want to know. This is not necessarily what you might be interested in. Don't clutter the product description with unnecessary technical details.
If you feel that you really must have a lot of detail, use a two-level strategy. Start with a summary that answers the most common questions, then have a “Details” section for shoppers who really want that level of information.
6. Have Great Product Photos
If this isn't obvious to you, think about how you might go about buying something in a store. Once you'd found an interesting item, you'd probably pick it up, look at it from the front, the back and maybe other perspectives.
Visitors to your online store can't pick up the products. If you can provide almost the same experience with your photos, then you've made it that much easier for them to buy.
Have plenty of product photos. Show the product from different perspectives. Provide larger, higher resolution versions of photos so they can see the details if they want.
If you'd like more information on this subject, this article is a good place to start.
7. Have Site Search
If you have lots of products, then you'll almost certainly have some type of multi-level navigation. For example, you might have broad product categories that are then further broken down with one or more levels of more detailed categories.
Some shoppers will appreciate the ability to “drill down” through your categories. Others will want to skip all that and go directly to the product they want. That's the purpose of site search.
Unless you have a very small product line, you should have site search. It should be easy to find and available on every page.
8. Make It Clear How To Add To Cart
This is another “rule” that should be obvious but isn't always followed.
Every product page should have a prominent “call-to-action” button (“Add to Cart” or whatever is appropriate for your situation). Shoppers who are so inclined will find it easy to buy, and the simple fact that it's clear what you want them to do increases the chances that they'll do it.
9. Make Sure Shoppers Can Easily See What's In Their Cart And Make Adjustments
Shoppers don't always get it right the first time. Maybe they decide they don't want something they added earlier. Maybe in looking around they find something more appropriate that what they already added to their cart.
If it's easy for them to look at the contents of their cart and make adjustments, they're much more likely to follow through with the purchase. If they get frustrated, they'll probably just go somewhere else.
An excellent approach is to have a “mini-cart” on every page that shows what's currently in their cart and allows them to make changes.
10. Show Related Products And Cross Sales Before Checkout
Showing shoppers other products related to what they just put in their cart is a great marketing approach. Examples include accessories, special promotions you might be offering and “shoppers who bought this also bought...” suggestions.
Just do it before they start checkout. Once a shopper clicks on the “Checkout Now” button, your goal is to have them complete that process. Don't distract them.
11. Allow Guest Checkout
I'm sure that you've had the experience of finding something you were interested in buying online, only to find that the seller required registration or insisted that you answer a series of questions before allowing you to start checkout. Maybe you were motivated enough to complete the process. Many people are not.
Registration implies a commitment more serious than a simple purchase. Unless there's some special reason why you need to have shoppers register, don't force the issue. Let them checkout as a “guest”.
The difference is more psychological than real. You're going to get much of the same information either way. The difference is that, as a guest, they enter information incrementally and with a clear purpose. Email address, billing address, shipping address and credit card or other payment information. It all makes sense in context.
As long as you're not too pushy about it, they may accept an offer to save their information at the end of the process.
12. Show Shipping Costs As Early As Possible
The most common reason why online shoppers abandon their carts is that they are shocked by the cost of shipping. Let them know what it is going to cost to ship their order as early in the process as possible.
They might still decide not to purchase, but they will appreciate that they didn't have to go through the whole purchase process only to abandon their cart.
Now It's Your Turn
There are lots of other things to do and not do when creating an online store. This list is simply my thoughts on what's most important.
What do you think? Did I miss anything really important?